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December 7, 2016

Book Review || The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

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So disconnected am I with the latest publications (having hundreds of books to read right at home) I did not even know that Anne Rice, one of my favourite authors - she who inspired the sexy vampire craze of the '90s - released a novel (four years ago nogal!) taking on the myth of the werewolf, 'The Wolf Gift'.

Werewolves are much maligned in horror and fantasy literature. They are rarely anything but beasts controlled outright by a monthly alteration into a creature that kills relentlessly and remorselessly, having literally no power over the change. Even the revolutionary nineties and naughties could not change this idea and werewolf films still retain these ideas for the most part (Exceptions can be found, such as the Underworld series). It is then fitting that a master of transforming the vampire from a creature bound by the need to feed into a flesh and blood, though dead, immortal in need of love and companionship take on the werewolf and attempt to revolutionise it.

And although I enjoyed the novel and would thus love to say it has become one of my favourites, this cannot be so. I'll admit this is perhaps because I have a sentimental love and connection to the vampire stories I became drunk on in my teens.

'The Wolf Gift' is, I think, aimed at making werewolves as glamorous and charismatic as Rice's vampires were. However, there is an inevitable sort of 'cut-and-paste' feeling for me: the wealth, the attractiveness of these men (for all the werewolves are men, of course), the ancient history. I feel like there was too much of an emulation of the vampires' ancient background for me to be entirely gripped by the read. And it was such a boys' club!

I did enjoy her attempt at modernising the myth with the aid of scientific terms and theories. I also relished the fact that all evidence of the werewolves - blood, hair, skin - would disappear once it was disconnected from the person's life force. However, the metaphysical questions her creations attempt to pose to us feel too much an echo of the vampires' search for meaning, having control of immortality and yet still not knowing the answers. Now, here is a new set of creatures created with their own myths and ancient legends and they also do not know any answers. Agreed, there are no creatures on Earth who know the answers but it feels repetitive.

Even the moral calling of the werewolves is an echo of Louis, the vampire from 'Interview with the Vampire', but in this case the werewolves are drawn to destroy evil instead of making the choice to do so.

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Rice also attempted to show that werewolves really are a more brutal reflection of immortality. Vampires never physically alter and their choices to be 'beasts' seem to be less limited. Werewolves on the other hand have the ability to entirely change their physical appearance - at will, too - and their beast-like instincts lie right on the surface. They have a 'true' connection with nature, sensing it and smelling it and even experiencing a deep connection to it. In this regard, I found their killing of animals with relish and without necessity confusing, since nature is by all intents innocent and their change induces an inherent attraction and malice towards evil. This idea is addressed by discussions about all of us being both good and evil at once, but it rings hollow when you consider that they have the conscience and mind of the human being. If they are close to nature, surely running rampant through the night slaughtering dozens of birds, feasting on every animal in sight seems to be more linked to the irresponsible nature of the all-devouring human than a beast at one with the ecosystem. It feels more like an assertion of their power over nature than an acceptance of being one with it and respecting it, which is what I would have thought would happen to a human suddenly exposed to the true wonder of it all.

I suppose they are at once man and beast and perhaps that is how they can reconcile the needless killing of creatures - needless because it is neither for survival nor for feeding that they kill - with an indulgence in power and blood, a trait that seems all too human for a group of men supposedly so connected to nature who are all also philosophers, poets, and scientists.

'The Wolf Gift' feels too much like a modernisation of The Vampire Chronicles, replete with references to Facebook, the Internet, cellphones, global media, and even scientific theories. This is not to say that I did not enjoy reading it, as there was a stage where I could not put it down, simply needing to know what happened next. It's just that at the end of it all I felt disappointed. Perhaps I'm being too judgmental as a result of my aforementioned sentimentality over The Vampire Chronicles, and also because this is only the first novel in a series.

Have you read it and what did you think? Have I judged it too harshly?

{Image credit: By Lucas Cranach the Elder - Gotha, Herzogliches Museum (Landesmuseum), Public Domain, Link}

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